Exclusive: Chick Corea Revisits His Own Past with His Spanish Heart Band on “My Spanish Heart”

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Exclusive: Chick Corea Revisits His Own Past with His Spanish Heart Band on “My Spanish Heart”

On his latest Concord Records release, Antidote, 22-time Grammy Award-winning pianist-composer Chick Corea returns to what he calls his “Spanish Heart”—the Spanish, Latin and flamenco traditions that have indelibly shaped his unmistakable sound over time. Corea’s latest outing, his 99th overall, harkens back to two albums from his own past that were beloved among fans—1976’s My Spanish Heart and 1982’s Touchstone.

With his new multi-cultural octet, the Spanish Heart Band, the 77-year-old jazz legend delves deeply into his roots in re-investigating epic, flamenco-fueled pieces like “Duende” and “Yellow Nimbus” (from Touchstone), as well as showcasing flamenco guitar star Niño Josele and Spanish flutist Jorge Pardo on dynamic new arrangements of Corea favorites like “Armando’s Rhumba,” a tune originally penned as a tribute to his father, and the stirring title track to My Spanish Heart.

Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Steve Davis supply the intricate horn lines throughout Antidote, while drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of master drummer Roy Haynes, who collaborated with Corea on his groundbreaking piano trio recording from 1968, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs) combines with Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero and Cuban bassist Carlitos Del Puerto to create crisp, percolating polyrhythms and clave-fueled momentum underneath it all. “That rhythm section is the perfect vehicle for me to express these particular musical thoughts,” said the Boston-born maestro. “And when I was able to have Jorge, Steve and Michael join me, it became a real dream band for me.”

Elsewhere on Antidote, Corea and his stellar international crew turn in an inventive, clave-fueled rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic “Desafinado” (featuring vocalist Maria Bianca) and turn in a faithful rendition of Paco de Lucia’s “Zyriab,” title track of the late flamenco guitar master’s 1990 album that Corea also appeared on. From the opening title track, a rhythmically charged piece that features Blades singing in both English and Spanish, to the closing “Admiration,” which ends with a flurry of heel-tapping from rising star flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes, Antidote is a richly rewarding dive into Corea’s roots.

“My genetics are Italian but my heart is Spanish,” he said. “I grew up with that music and these rhythms have been such a big part of my musical heritage. I think anyone’s love for other cultures develops naturally with life’s experiences. Starting early in high school, I began to be attracted to the musics of the Spanish-speaking world. Early influences were Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and Machito. Then later on, Paco De Lucia and flamenco music became important influences. Over time, I took every opportunity to play with these musicians and learn from them. My first major gig in New York City in 1960 was with the great Cuban percussionist and rumba master Mongo Santamaria. That experience really solidified my interest and love in those rhythms and culture. I can feel this amazing influence even when I play a Mozart piano concerto.”

Corea added, “As I travel and play, I receive feedback from the music listeners and fans all the time. I get to see what themes ands songs they respond to in performance. These compositions of mine that come from my Spanish heart and mind are always enjoyed and asked for.”

Chick Corea & The Spanish Heart Band will tour Europe through June and July, then appear at the 50th Anniversary of the Concord Jazz Festival in Concord, Calif., on Aug. 3.

This sample of “My Spanish Heart” from Antidote, premiering here at Paste today, opens with sparse solo piano then leads into a simmering, clave-fueled reading of the title track of that landmark 1976 album, with guest vocalist Ruben Blades channeling his inner Johnny Hartman in his passionate delivery of a new set of lyrics to that Corea classic. Mike Rodriguez contributes a bright trumpet solo near the end, then Corea and Blades engage in spirited call-and-response exchanges before Gayle bookends the piece with her ethereal vocal choir.

Listen to “My Spanish Heart” below and further down, revisit Corea & Friends’ 1996 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival via video from the Paste archives.